We're only at the semi-finals portion of the 2023 WNBA Playoffs, yet it seems like the stage is already set for a colossal Finals showdown between the defending champion Las Vegas Aces and the New York Liberty. There are a lot of reasons to believe an Aces-Liberty finale is a certainty. They were, in fact, the two best teams in the league this 2023 season. Still, it would be a huge mistake to count out last year's finalists, the Connecticut Sun, from making a return trip to the WNBA Finals.
The Sun will take on the No. 2 seed Liberty, who are led by MVP candidate Breanna Stewart, All-Star Sabrina Ionescu, and former Sun franchise star Jonquel Jones. Connecticut failed to get a win over New York during the regular season. In fact, the Liberty dominated the Sun in their season series, which should give Stewart and co. the confidence that they can easily breeze through this second-round series against the third seed.
Nonetheless, this is the playoffs. Anything can happen at this point. It wouldn't be smart for any WNBA fan to think this series would not be competitive. Can the Sun shock the world and upset this loaded Liberty squad? Can Alyssa Thomas and company spoil the party and prevent a historic matchup between the league's two juggernaut giants and instead forge a rematch of the 2022 WNBA Finals?
Alyssa Thomas and the rest of the Sun certainly believe so. With that said, here are three reasons the Connecticut Sun will upset the New York Liberty in round two of the 2023 WNBA Playoffs.
1. Extra motivation to take down Jonquel Jones
The scriptwriters did great work by pitting the Connecticut Sun against its former franchise superstar Jonquel Jones. If a return trip to the WNBA Finals is not enough motivation for the Sun in this series, perhaps taking down Jones provides the extra fuel they need to pull off the upset.
Jones spent the first six years of her career with the Sun. Connecticut watched their 2016 6th overall pick ascend into one of the best players in the WNBA. The 6-foot-6 center won WNBA MVP in 2021 and led the Sun to the Finals in 2022, where they lost to Las Vegas. She made four All-Star appearances and four All-WNBA nods as part of the Sun.
However, despite just making the Finals, Jones felt like her time in Connecticut was over and requested a trade from the franchise during the 2023 offseason. With the departure of their franchise star from the team, many believed the Sun would plummet to near the bottom of the league standings. Yet, led by Alyssa Thomas' MVP worthy-campaign, they still went 27-13 and finished with the third-best record in the WNBA.
2. Sun defense
If there is one thing the Sun can hang their hat on throughout this series, it is their defense. Connecticut finished with the second-best defensive rating in the WNBA this 2023 season. The Sun also held their opponents to 79.0 points per game this season, which ranked first in league. Connecticut was also the best team in limiting transition opportunities, holding their opponents to just 8.2 fastbreak points per game.
In addition, Connecticut was also No. 1 in defending the three-point shot, limiting its opponents to just 32.1 percent from deep. This trend continued in their first round series versus the Minnesota Lynx. In those three games, the Sun held the Lynx to just 28.9 percent shooting from three.
This should help Connecticut's cause against a Liberty team that finished as the best three-point shooting team in WNBA history. New York set the record for most threes in a season at 444 and most three-pointers per game at 11.1. The Liberty also led the league in three-point percentage at 37.4 percent.
But as great as the Liberty were during the regular season, their three-point shooting has cooled off during the playoffs. Though it's just two games, they did shoot just 28.1 percent from long range in their first round series against the Washington Mystics. New York's cold shooting from beyond the arc couldn't have come at a perfect time for a Sun team that specializes in defending from long distance.
If the Sun are able to hold the Liberty to below-par three-point shooting, they might have a chance to upset New York.
3. Sun heating up from beyond the arc
While New York is cooling off from long distance, the Sun have begun to heat up with their outside shot. Connecticut shot a scorching 45.7 percent from three through its three-game series against the Minnesota Lynx in the first round.
They went 16-of-30 in Game 1, where they blew out the Lynx by 30 points. Tiffany Hayes and Rebecca Allen, in particular, combined for 9-of-12 from three in that game. Though they cooled off a bit in Game 2 (7-of-20), which they lost, Dewanna Bonner also found her stroke, going 6-of-10 from downtown. Game 3 saw Connecticut connect on nine of their 20 triple tries, with Tyasha Harris knocking down four three-pointers and Bonner going 3-of-6.
If the Sun continue to trend up with their three-point shot, especially with Bonner finding her rhythm, there is a chance an upset of the Liberty may happen.